Fans' View

Fans’ View: Don’t cross the line

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Major League Soccer has a terrific ad campaign running right now with their “Don’t Cross the Line” spots. The ad shows the cultural diversity in MLS while delivering the all-important message that hate isn’t to be tolerated. I hope we can all agree that when people make monkey sounds or throw bananas at black players, it’s wrong. I hope we all agree that Robbie Rogers deserves to be treated the same as any other player, and that maybe he’ll provide the courage necessary for more players—in all sports—to come out. In short, there should be no room at all for discrimination at any sporting event.

And yet, subtle gender discrimination takes place at sporting events every week, and nobody bats an eye. Many laugh, finding it humorous. You’ve heard them: “You throw like a girl!” “Why don’t you just put a dress on them already?” “My sister can kick harder than you!” These and other statements of their ilk are tossed around in the stands on a regular basis.

As the father of a young girl, I see exactly what these statements say: it’s inferior to be a girl.

It’s personal

Don’t believe me? I coach co-ed soccer and girls’ basketball. I see it and I have to overcome it to bring out the best in my kids. There is certainly a chance, statistically speaking at least, that my sample size is too small or isn’t diverse enough. But I don’t think so. Every young girl I’ve ever coached that I talked to about it has said the same basic thing: such talk hurts. Everything I’ve read from experts says the same thing: it denigrates women to make men feel superior.

There’s a good chance that your reaction now is very similar to mine the first time I heard this sort of thing: hogwash. It’s all in fun, and there’s no way it’s hurtful. To that I reply: ten years ago it was OK to question a player’s sexuality, to imply that he was gay and therefore weaker or inferior to everybody else. We know better now. It took time and conversation, but we now see how such comments are hurtful, especially to the young, and—for the most part—we’ve stopped. In fact, we’ve done better than stop. We’ve started to embrace the opposite viewpoint: that a player’s sexuality has no effect on how well they perform on the field.

Turning it around

Nike has started using these sorts of thoughts in a line of women’s wear, but with a twist. My daughter has a shirt that says, “I run like a girl, I throw like a girl, I hit like a girl. I AM a girl and I’ll make the boys cry!” It does a fantastic job of taking this outdated meme and turning it upside down, of taking away its power to harm young girls. By age 14, girls drop out of athletics at twice the rate of their male counterparts. Many factors affect that, of course, but among them is social stigma (“girls can’t play as well as boys”).

We have the power to change that. We have the ability to not cross the line. We have the obligation to place girls and young women on equal footing when it comes to sports. I’m pleased that my daughter is growing up in an era when there are female athletes to serve as role models. Players such as Alex Morgan and Hope Solo and Abby Wambach, among many others, go out and show these girls that they can play just as hard, and be just as successful, as the boys.

As a society, we’ve reached a point where overt racism is no longer acceptable. We’re very rapidly reaching the point where overt homophobia is no longer acceptable. I’m asking you, for the sake of all the young girls out there with dreams of the Olympics or World Cup or WNBA or whatever, to put gender inequality on the list of socially unacceptable standards. Participation in youth sports has a dramatic effect on a child, male or female. They get better grades, miss fewer days of school, graduate at a higher rate, and have a lower incidence of discipline referrals. Athletics opens up doors to attend college, even if the player has no chance to ever turn professional. With all the benefits, why would we want to drive our daughters away from athletics by mocking them to put our sons on pedestals?

Let’s make a stand. Let’s find more creative ways to mock and jeer a player who makes a mistake. Together, let’s not cross the line.

20 Comments

  1. I’m hoping that you don’t get a bunch of mens-rights knuckledraggers in the comments here, but regardless: thanks for writing this.

    I think there’s a lot of work to do, at PPL and elsewhere.

    • Thanks, Michael. I do expect that sort of thing. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. The good thing is we’re all slowly changing, and the knuckledraggers are being isolated more and more each day.

    • I totally agree with this post, and it actually made me think about past things I have heard… that being said, making blank “knuckle-dragger” statements is also as derogatory.

      • Fair enough, GO. However, I’ll point out that one chooses to be a knuckle-dragger, while gender, race, age, sexual orientation, etc is not a choice. So for me, the focus is on fairness and equality for those who are in a category for which they don’t have a choice. Once we get there – and I think the soccer community is way ahead of society in general – then I’ll worry about the groups who do have a choice.

      • That makes sense. And like I said I agree with everything here. I just know when people throw derogatory words around while making their arguments, it takes away from what they’re saying. And gives those opposed am opportunity to knock them down.

    • I’m a “Mens’ Right Knuckle Dragger” and I couldn’t agree more with the ideas in this article. Of course, most “Mens’ right knuckle draggers” are actually for complete and total equality. Something many people don’t seem to understand.

      A person with a truly egalitarian position notices how BOTH men and women have to suffer discriminatory expectations that are predetermined for them.

      For every “you throw like a girl” you hear, you see a “man up” type of shaming message towards men where they are expected to behave a certain way themselves. For every wage gap, there is registering for selective service. For every woman under the glass ceiling, there is a man under the “cement basement” risking his life mining coal or being an underwater welder. And so on and so forth.

      Hell, just look at the giveaway this weekend. They are giving away 5,000 pink tote bags. Who gets them? Only women. Imagine the hell the team would get if they gave out blue tote bags and only gave them to men. I don’t subscribe to any of that color-gender nonsense. I want a pink tote bag. I’d use it, too. But I don’t get it because I have testicles. Lame.

      I agree with you, there is a lot of work to do in society. But if you think men don’t need a rights movement and rights advocates speaking for them, you are simply blind. Its the only way we can build a truly egalitarian society.

      Also, I’ve heard it suggested that “Hey, ref, suck on my balls” should be changed to “hey, ref, suck on my taint” for similar gender neutral purposes. With which I also fully support. I find it funnier, anyway.

  2. I have not been a fan of the chant “She fell over” that I have heard in our own section 109 coming from boys – thankfully it seems to have stopped, but as a parent I made it clear to my sons that that was not acceptable. I think as parents, we need to teach our kids not just on the field to be careful what is said to others, but also when cheering on out team.

    • Well put.

    • Yes.
      .
      As the father of a girl, it’s my job to teach her to reach past the stereotypes; to teach her that she can play as hard and as good as any boy. To teach her that it extends beyond the sports field and into life.
      .
      As the father of a boy, it’s my job to teach him that his decisions and his words impact others. And just like he wouldn’t say something hateful to his Indian friends or his Hispanic friends, he also shouldn’t say – and do – hateful things towards females.
      .
      As a father of any child, it’s my job to teach them not to hate. Each generation, we seem to get a little bit closer, but never quite there. I’m hopeful that their generation gets it right.

    • What I always find funny about “She fell over” is that there seems to be way less diving in women’s soccer than men’s. In 137, I can’t be sure, but it sounds like it’s been amended to “Cheat fell over.” Well, around me anyway. I’m sure plenty of people still say “She.”

  3. I agree with your points here. The only reason to discriminate is based on the crest on the chest. Root against all Union opponents and their fans equally (well maybe not as hard agains some former Union players) but there is no need to resort to referring to anyone’s race, creed, gender, orientation or anything else along those lines.

    I admit that I do question the city of origin of the referee sometimes. I’ll bet the next two refs at PPL Park are originally from Toronto and Kansas City respectively.

  4. Unionblues24 says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I have to say, there are a few chants at Union matches that make me feel uncomfortable….especially the “Hey ref, suck on my (fill-in-the-blank). I understand that as a woman, I am in a man’s world in the TRE, and for the most part I maintain an “it is what it is” mentality. However, I have a young daughter and I do not see myself bringing her to stand with me in the TRE anytime soon, for a few reasons that include chants of that nature. My daughter plays sports. She is strong, capable and driven. She is not, nor will she ever be, “just a girl”.

    • I talked about some of that in last month’s article, though mostly focusing on the infamous YSA chant.
      .
      The “Hey, ref” thing actually bothers me a lot less than, “he kicks like a girl,” type comments.
      .
      I hope your daughter remains strong, capable and driven, and defines herself by more than just her gender. Like I said up the page, each generation we seem to get a little better; maybe our kids will be the ones who end it.

  5. Great post John. This is a story that needs to get picked up by MLS and others. Please share this story through social media outlets.
    .
    As a pediatrician, I can tell you that you’re point about girls drastically reducing their physical activity in middle/high school compared to boys is spot on. It leads not only to physical health problems, but also contributes to mental health problems for young women.
    .
    As a father of two boys, I hope they will grow up to be gentleman and realize that words can cause harm, even if they didn’t intend for them to do so.
    .
    The best chants are always the ones that are clever and witty. Calling someone a “girl” as an insult isn’t just lacking wit, it’s being a bigot and it needs to end. If you hear someone use derogatory language and you stay silent, you’re part of the problem as well.

    • “As a pediatrician, I can tell you that you’re point about girls drastically reducing their physical activity in middle/high school compared to boys is spot on. It leads not only to physical health problems, but also contributes to mental health problems for young women.”
      .
      I actually did some quick research on it before I wrote it. I had always heard it, but I hate passing along urban legends and such. So I spent an hour or two on Google following all sorts of links to articles about it. Anybody who’s interested in learning more about can go and google phrases such as “girls sports participation” and see all sorts of studies.
      .
      This whole idea got under my skin last year. Our soccer club went co-ed last year, due – interestingly – to a lack of girls signing up. For my age bracket, we’re talking 10 and 11 year old girls, so there really isn’t that much difference physically – the girls are actually taller overall at that age. I had parents express concern because their daughters “couldn’t” compete with the boys. I had one girl tell me she couldn’t play goalie against the boys because they shoot harder.
      .
      It was a lot of work, but I was thrilled to have the goalie become an all-star by the end of the season as well as scoring goals from the midfield when she wasn’t in net.
      .
      So yeah, that’s a longwinded way of saying it was an important issue for me, too.

  6. Great post, nice comments. IMHO the absolute best thing for women’s soccer / equality / what have you was Mia. Girl could PLAY.

  7. As a father of 3 girls, I have always considered “you kick like a girl” to be high praise (love the t-shirt). The USWNT has 2 World Cups and 4 Olympic Golds to prove it.

  8. Great article. As a female player and Union fan, I hate these poorly thought out and hurtful chants.

  9. John- This article is nicely done. I had the privilege of coaching my three daughters in soccer (more than twenty years total), basketball (approximately fifteen years), and softball (twenty years and counting), as well as my son in soccer, basketball and baseball (a run of about ten years for his various teams). I too was at a lower travel level with most of these teams. I saw no difference in the degree of dedication that girls brought to the field or the court, and the ferocity of the competitive fire that the girls brought would put the boys teams to shame. We are all aware of the physical limits that the girls can, but do not always, bring to the field, but they are more than outweighed by a willingness to work as a team, actually learn the game instead of assuming that they know it, and an overarching willingness to do things right. I found that girls were generally more coachable, and appreciated the joint success of a win and worked to avoid the joint failure of a loss, more than the boys teams. It wasn’t all roses and laurels on the girls’ side, and there were issues with every team that make generalizations difficult. However, the girls were as willing to push through pain and adversity, and were more willing to accept the pain and adversity as the price of success than the boys, overall. One thing that I noticed was that the girls that I lost at the age of twelve to fourteen tended to go to other sports (damn that field hockey and that lacrosse!). The boys were dropping at that point as well, but they were losing confidence as the physical gifts of the other players began to differentiate skill levels, and the boys “knew” that other guys were better. The girls were able to redirect their interests better, and more willing to try alternatives if they perceived a difference in their ability to reach the next level. In short, I understand and agree with what you say, but I never have accepted the idea that girls should feel that they were lesser players than the boys, and hope that that message got through to every team, boy and girl, that I coached.

  10. Well said. And as Dennis Leary said “hate is taught, you know what my three year old hates? Naps, end of discussion.” Just as it can be taught so can the opposite.

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